It's telling that so many friends and acquaintances who were massively into hip hop during the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s, say to me, 'Well there's no good hip hop now, is there?' And I launch into my diatribe, that there is 'good hip hop' out there - you know challenging, bright, intelligent, quirky, boundary breaking, leftfield, goofy hip hop - it's just hard to find.
Ultimately the mammoth marketing machine of mainstream hip pop, has created a one dimensional view of hip hop - gangsta, bling, grillz, rims'n'rides, jiggy, mysogynistic - and that image now pervades. And unless you're a bona fide hip hop head or work in music, it's bloody hard to find the alternative to this. Most of these mates are stuck on the Pharcyde, Wu Tang and Black Sheep, and good luck to 'em, that period's not known as 'the golden age' for nothing is it?
However decent hip hop does exist in 2007 and two of its leading exponents are hosting nights in the next couple of weeks. First up is the mighty Lex Records, home to Prince Po, Danger Mouse & MF Doom - The Mouse & The Mask, Shape Of Broad Minds, Kid Acne, and much more, including Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip, who I have to admit to not getting, at all. But hey you can't love 'em all.
And next Wednesday there's a showcase of recent additions to their roster: Shape Of Broad Minds and Flying Lotus, are well worth checking. Think Madlib, think J Dilla (RIP) and you're in hip hop heaven.
In a couple of weeks there's this huge party for Big Dada Records tenth birthday. My thoughts on Big Dada have been expressed before here, but just to re-iterate, this is one of the labels I have the most respect for.
Two recent examples show why: when nobody's touching grime with a barge pole, Big Dada gives Wiley an album deal, and it's the perfect fit coz Big Dada's all about individual, boundary breaking hip hop and that's exactly what Wiley is. A maverick genius, that 90% of people don't get, but if you love rap, as in flows of words that are bent, mangled, twisted and flexed in a completely unique way, then Wiley's as good as any, especially as his London street slang style mixes up patois, cockney, and is the voice of a generation. Way more than Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Jack Penishead (cheap gag I know), and the rest of the estuary English cliched crew.
Hip hop as the voice of the unheard? Well Wiley's repping working class, estate London, a demographic that doesn't have ANY representation in 2007.
Secondly, Big Dada released a certain Diplo's debut LP in the early noughties, 2003 I think. When nobody had heard of the thug (watch the Well Deep DVD and you'll find out why) from the Deep South.
Now of course he's the man of the moment who's just about the hippest don Dada, and has joined the dots between global ghetto sounds - think of baile funk clashing with dancehall and rutting with grime.
No Diplo also means no Spank Rock, MIA, Hollertronix, Bondo Do Role, Radioclit... And no Big Dada means no Ty and Roots Manuva, two of my fave rappers. I'm struggling to think of a homegrown hip hop label with the balls to put Roots Manuva's urban blues, or Ty's irrepressible conscious funkiness.
L.Man - another South London (Norwood?) bwoy making kick ass music alongside dubsteppers Loefah, Mala, Coki - performs at Cargo tonight, with homegrown hip hop leg-end Skinnyman.
Both are kindred rappers - L.Man's one of the most talented lyricists/poets I've heard in the last 12 months. I like the fact that he says he's not grime or rap or hip hop, but a storyteller. His stories are compelling in that lo-fi, world we don't know, reportage stylee, and he talks about feelings and emotions. Big up.
There's a lesson for L.Man here, and hopefully Skinnyman's done his duty and kept LMan on the straight and narrow. Skinnyman was the homegrown rapper who was on the verge of big tings, tiiiime ago. He kicked Eminem's ass in a freestyle at Subterranea in the late 1990s, before Eminem was famous. Skinnyman was signed to Gilles Peterson's Talkin Loud (Masters At Work, Reprazent, Urban Species, Galliano, Incognito), and would have been primed to crossover as Masters At Work and Reprazent did. Except Skinnyman allegedly got busted for shotting green, and lots of it.
So he was banged up, and the boat passed. It still doesn't detract from the fact that Skinnyman is a fucking fantastic rapper, with compelling real talk, sharp observation, reportage and reps the voice of the unheard - council estate Britain. Coucil Estate Of Mind is a stone cold UK hip hop classic. But Skinnyman's definitely a case of unfulfilled potential.
Hopefully L.Man won't fall into the same trap. Both perform tonight at Cargo. Skinnyman's Council Estate Of Mind launch party at Cargo in 2005, was one of the heaviest hip hop gigs I've seen ever. I've got the lurgy but I'm tempted, B.I.G. T.I.M.E.
South Yorks! The motherfuckin South Yorks! - Kid Acne's one talented rapper, designer, graf artist and general one man creative tornado. He's signed to Lex Records - home to Danger Mouse, Prince Po and many other very fine leftfield rappers.
It's just a shame that our London-centred media and music industry just isn't into regional hip hop. Sad but true. It's something of a novelty, comedy even. Like rapping Yorkshire coalminer, Pitman. Can anyone name a homegrown rap artist outside of London that's got props, kudos or made it??
Here's where you can catch him
Thur 25th Oct, City Festival, Brighton
Fri 26th Oct, Stealth, Nottingham
Sat 27th Oct, Digital, Newcastle
Wed 31st Oct, The Shakespeare, Sheffield
Thur 1st Nov, The Swan, Ipswich
Fri 2nd Nov, The Swan, Aylesbury
Sat 3rd Nov, Astoria 2, London
Sun 6th Nov, Royal Park Cellars, Leeds
Wed 7th Nov, Sankys Soap, Manchester
Sat 10th Nov, SWN festival, Callaghans, Cardiff
Wed 14th Nov, The Three Horseshoes, Doncaster
Fri 16th Nov, Amersham Arms, London
Sun 18th Nov, The Grapes, Sheffield
Thur 22nd Nov, Stylus, Leeds University
Fri 23rd Nov, George II, Luton
Sat 24th Nov, The Social, Nottingham
Wed 28th Nov, TBC, London
Sat 1st Dec, Carters Old No7, Barnsley
Sun 2nd Dec, Purple Turtle, Oxford
cheers to man like Ben Run Tings Harries for the info and repping real hip hop, that's got something to say beyond war, bling and bitches. Ait.
This was on Monday. I missed it, due to football commitments (playing, not watching). However I will be watching it again thanks to BBC's watch back service here.
The documentary investigates how female foetuses are aborted regularly in India. Sex determination tests are illegal in India for this reason.
Worse than abortion is girl babies being buried alive or thrown away. It's a side of India that we don't hear in the 'India is Shining', 'Incredible India', image that's projected, here there and everywhere. This practise goes on in feudal, rural India (where 70% of its 1 billion population live) - it includes a family who buried their seventh daughter alive as they couldn't afford the dowry for her wedding (a year's wages). Shocking but true. Yet it's also present in educated middle class and upper class India, as India's Missing Girls highlights. Which is arguably more shocking.
So despite India's cities looking more and more like mega-malls the reality for the majority ithe country is very different. And that also goes for any of this newfound middle class money filtering through to the villages and those that live on less than $1 a week.
Respect to the documentary maker Ashok Prasad, a friend, who's finding it increasingly difficult to make programmes like this because the climate's geared towards reality TV shite. God help us.
This is the video to Roots Manuva's Witness. It's one of the biggest tracks of the noughties, but how many people can say they have seen the video?
It's possibly the funniest hip hop videos I've ever seen. Frankly it's genius, I've never laughed so much at a hip hop video. And I came across it in the course of reviewing of Well Deep: Ten Years Of Big Dada Recordings, a DVD celebrating Big Dada's tenth birthday.
So big up to Big Dada, a world without Big Dada doesn't bear thinking about - that would mean no Ty, no Roots Manuva, no Diplo, no Spank Rock, no New Flesh, the list is endless. And get out there and support if you can - maybe Radiohead and Prince can afford to give away music as a promo, but for labels such as Big Dada and Ninja Tune, margins are tight and every penny counts.
Kalabash is a new monthly night looking at the music of African nations. The nights consist of documentaries, films and talks. And tomorrow's is on Nigeria. The footage above is of Fela Kuti, one of the greatest music makers of the 20th century, standard - funky as hell with the most crazy ass rhythms you have ever heard. No Fela, no Afrobeat. Fela made music with meaning, music with a message that said something about the political situation of his homeland. Appropriately enough, the documentary of the life of this great man is entitled Music Is A Weapon.
I've just come back from Africa so I'm probably biased but for me music such as this or contemporary African hip hop say Daara J or K'naan (baile funk, kurruda, and grime too) makes US hip hop and 90% of music we hear, seem totally played out, meaningless and bereft of any soul, vitality or urgency.
Here's the press release for tomorrow's Kalabash. Support if you can, it's free too!
Awareness through documentary films and music
This Thursday, 18 October 2007 7pm - 2am @ Salmon & Compass
58 Penton Street, corner of Chapel Market Street, Angel, London N1 9PZ, nearest tube: Angel
Upstairs: Films and Q&A (from 7pm)
7pm Film 1: MUSIC IS THE WEAPON
Dir Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori. 1982, 53 mins.
This documentary gives a rare insight into the public and private life of composer, Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938-1997). The interviews cover his resistance to the Nigerian regime, his controversial polygamous lifestyle and an exploration of the political context of his work.
8pm Film 2: NIGERIA'S OIL WAR
Foreign Correspondent 2005, 18 mins.
The Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force has brazenly stolen oil straight out of pipelines owned by some of the world’s biggest multinationals. The vast Niger Delta where they operate holds an estimated three percent of the world's oil. This well-organized crime gang has become a key player in the world’s most strategically important industry. Recently the price of oil rose to a record $50 a barrel when the market panicked after they threatened to cut-off the flow of oil.
8.20pm Film 3: SUFFERING AND SMILING
Dir Dan Ollman, Nigeria/USA 2006, 65 mins.
Focusing on Fela Kuti and his son Femi, Suffering and Smiling depicts the impact of their politically charged music. Following Nigeria's independence in 1960, Fela used his songs to speak out against the country's corrupt leaders. Since independence the military and political elite have enriched themselves by allowing Nigeria's oil and natural resources to be stripped by multi-national corporations with little benefit to ordinary Nigerians. Fela gave a voice to Nigeria's disenfranchised underclass and sang of a free and united Africa. Since Fela's death, Femi has continued the legacy. Equally passionate and charismatic, he asks why the world's most resource-rich continent has the poorest people, and carries a vision of better days ahead for the people of Nigeria.
9.30pm Q&A & film discussion with Eki (ALISC), Molara Wood, Ben Amunwa (Remember Saro-Wiwa) and Ken Lewis-Allagoa
The African Liberation Support Campaign Network (ALISC) is a democratic organisation led by Africans fighting oppression and tyranny in Africa, and racism in the West. The ALISC tackles issues such as the ‘debt’ of African nations being outweighed by the huge profits Western nations have made from Africa, and that what remains of the so-called debt is the accumulated compound interest on non-existent capital. Molara Wood is an independent Nigerian journalist (http://www.molarawood.blogspot.com).Remember Saro-Wiwa uses public art and events to raise awareness about London's social and ecological impact on the Niger Delta (http://www.remembersarowiwa.com). Ken Lewis-Allagoa is Niger Delta lawyer and activist.
Downstairs: Live music and DJs (until 2am)
10.15pm: Live performance from INEMO
Inemo Samiama describes himself as representing a new generation of African musicians. From his earliest years Inemo was shaped and influenced by music. His father taught him to play, and at the age of 18 he formed the group Jah Stix with Majek Fashek. His debut album ‘Bushman’ (Mercury/Universal) mixed African melodies with techno, hip-hop, jungle, dub and ambient sounds. Following this huge success, Inemo was nominated for an RFI (Radio France Industry) Music Award as Best World Music Artist. Inemo has now decided to return to his roots. After three years of composing, recording and traveling between London, Paris and Africa, Inemo is back with his latest album, 'Afro Funky Beats'. With this album, Inemo demonstrates that his music can reinvent and enrich itself with new sounds, just like Fela Kuti, Salif Keita and Angelique Kidjo have done before him. http://www.inemo.co.uk
'Afro Funky Beats' is out now on Black Mango Music: http://www.blackmangomusic.com
Plus special guest PA from BLAK TWANG
Over a decade has passed since UK Hip Hop legend Blak Twang's first ever foray into the British music scene. His most recent single is the head pounding, socially driven 'Help Dem Lord' from his forthcoming album 'Speakin From Xperience'. Born to Nigerian parents and growing up in South London, he is undoubtedly a pioneer of Hip Hop maintaining an infallible recognition of his roots in cultivating his own identity.
http://www.blaktwang.net | http://www.myspace.com/blaktwang
11.30pm-12.30: DJ ILKA
German born and raised, but South London based for more than 15 years now, Ilka started djing in 2005 and has since played at venues such as Big Chill House, Momo's, The Spitz, Darbucka and the Arcola Theatre. Her selection includes all things funky and African such as Coupe Decale, Kwaito, Afrobeat, Zouglou, Soukous, Naija Pop and more, but also the occasional Soca, Dancehall and Champeta as well as other global beats. As a freelance music publicist, Ilka works with labels like Out Here Records (Bassekou Kouyate), Analog Africa and Afrolution Records, targeting specialist, BME (black minority ethnic) and mainstream media. Ilka is the content editor of the BBC's African music site Africa On Your Street (http://www.bbc.co.uk/africaonyourstreet) and she manages UK-based Nigerian Hip Hop group JJC & 419 Squad and Lagos- based Reggae artist African China. http://www.myspace.com/ilkamedia
Plus Afro-beats and grooves hosted by Kalabash Movement resident DJs SUPA SCION & SPRINGFIELD
KALABASH WORLD is an organisation that seeks to promote awareness through film and music. Each event is designed to encourage recognition of the rich diversity between African Nations, to celebrate cultural heritage and explore socio-political situations. We aim to give a platform to musicians and independent film makers and encourage a wider audience to appreciate their works. Upcoming Kalabash dates: Kalabash South Africa on 15 November 2007 and Kalabash Ethiopia on 17 January 2008.
http://www.kalabashmovement.com | http://www.myspace.com/kalabashworld
Music as an expression of culture and identity. Sounds like a loud of wank, but it's why I'm so interested in music, to be frank. And there's a book looking into the genesis and evolution of British bhangra about to be published, Bhangra: Birmingham And Beyond. It turns out there's a department for Ethnomusicology at SOAS, where else?! I bumped in Bobby Friction (Radio 1) after a discussion on British bhangra and what it says about Asian youth in the UK, and it sounded fascinating.
How British bhangra began to absorb synths and Western pop, house... with groups such as Heera and Alaap, that's after bhangra bands first sprang up to recreate the traditional folk music of Panjab (celebrating harvest time).
These bands would play weddings and working mens clubs for Asian factory workers, before evolving and capturing the imagination of British asian youth at daytime bhangra gigs - that my sis would sneak out to in the late 1980s. Yes it would be the ultimate cliche, off to school in school uniform, bunk off and get changed goto the Hippodrome or Equinox and party all day before going home in school uniform as if nothing had happened.
Anyhow enough of my potted history here's the press release:
Saturday 15th of Sept at the Brunei Gallery saw the private launch of Bhangra: Birmingham and Beyond, the first book of its kind looking at the British Bhangra phenomenon. Ammo Talwar from Punch Records, Dr Rajinder Dudrah, Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, along with and Boy Chana, Photographer, came up with concept of the book. Ammo explains, “The book evolved out of the images, memorabilia and stories that partly developed from the 'Soho Road to Punjab' exhibition.”
The book is an introduction to British Bhangra music, using the city of Birmingham as a starting point to map out the journey that UK Bhangra has travelled, from its folk beginnings in the Punjab, to a fusion-based music in Post-war Britain, to now in the 2000s having crossed over into the mainstream through American Hip Hop artists and others using the Bhangra beat and sounds. The book draws on interviews with artists (both men and women), lyricists and promoters of the Bhangra scene, including analysis of some of the lyrics and album covers to give a unique insight into the workings of British Bhangra music.
Author Dr Rajinder Dudrah explains how this book will appeal to a number of readers, “for one, the 'retro' audience who are now in their 30s and 40s and were the youth who were present at the live music events during the heydays of Bhangra in the 80s. Young people who are into British Asian music but might not know the history and importance of Bhangra music since the 60 and 70s. It can also be used at an academic level where GCSE, A-level and university students on media and cultural studies courses can draw on it as a resource in their studies; as well the general reader interested in aspects of British Bhangra music and its industry.”
Available through Amazon, Waterstones and Independent outlets - Nov 25th 2007
Big up to Ammo at Punch Records in Birmingham for documenting this slice of modern British and immigrant history. For anyone who thinks it doesn't matter or is irrelevant, I'll give you six words: Panjabi MC - Mundian Te Bach Ke
Please forgive my silence and lack of blog activity. I've been on work/holiday trip to Malawi for 11 days, and touched a computer once in that time, and also watched TV once. Bliss. You don't know how liberating it is to be freed from the shackles of technology and the way it binds our daily lives.
Talk about back to basics, Malawi was all about talking to people - whether fellow travellers or the friendliest people I've ever met in all my travels (Malawians), playing cards, and reading. Of course, I've broken my vow to avoid facebook 'pon my return and spent a good couple of hours on it yesterday! So much for escaping the clutches of technology. Technology is like women: you can't live with it, you can't live without it. How's that for insight??
Anyway. I'll be blogging on the usual - music, arts, culture, and of course Malawi. And posting random pix too, like this. Of a traditional Malawian dance. These guys have nothing and live a subsistence existence (ie hand to mouth and not knowing where their next meal is coming from). Their hats are made of magazines, their clothes and shoes are battered, yet rarely have I seen such pride and dignity in people.
These are Malipenga Dancers, with each row in descending age order. So the nervous youngers are at the back. One song asked 'Why are so many people dying?'. Now this is real soul and blues - spiritual, searching, real music with meaning. Can Western music, with our relatively comfortable lifestyles, touch the heart in the same way? I think not when the majority of music we hear is designed to do one thing - sell records. Yet this music is about expression. There's a major difference, and it's immediately obvious to the mind, body and soul.
Another song has the moral lesson that if a tree doesn't go straight when it's young, then how can it grow straight when it's matured. The analogy alludes to parents raising their sons correctly from a young age. By the time they're spoilt, indulged pisshead/alcoholic young men, it's too late. And bwoy there were enough stoner/pisshead men in Malawi who were off their faces at 10am, while the women carry seven litres of water on their head five miles to the village, and firewood.
Big thanks to 13 year old John Tembo, a bright, motivated young Malawian who wants to be a journalist. He's top of his class of 100 people, where the oldest pupil is 20. He has one more year left before university. Child prodigy or what? He was my personal translator for most of the festival.